'She lived as a woman, address her as a woman'

By Gerry Christopher Johnson
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 7 | Posted Nov. 2, 2010

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By dusk, Love Park has usually made its transformation from a tourist-friendly lunch haven to an encampment for the homeless, who share benches, bottles and laughter deep into the night. But on this autumn Saturday evening, another group emerges from the margins to overtake the park. Gay, lesbian and transgender people of color trickle in from cars, the Broad Street Line and nearby 13th Street to congregate in mourning. They’ve come to speak out on behalf of 31-year old Stacey Blahnik Lee, a transgender woman who was permanently silenced on National Coming Out Day.

According to police, on Oct. 11, Stacey’s live-in boyfriend, Malik, found her dead in the bedroom of their Point Breeze home with a pillowcase wrapped around her neck. Police ruled her death a homicide.

“It’s a tragedy because every three days a transgender is murdered,” says Yonnie, 32, who identifies as a lesbian and one of Stacey’s best friends. “But we are all humans and she didn’t deserve that.” She and many of Stacey’s loved ones are demanding better treatment from the media and swifter action from the police.

To many, news outlets’ initial coverage of Stacey’s death was insensitive. The Daily News referred to her by her birth name, Michael Lee, setting her chosen name in quotation marks. Likewise, NBC 10 reported, “The victim is Michael Lee, a 31-year-old man who lived his life as a woman named Stacey Blahnik.”

The trivialization of Stacey’s male-to-female transition left loved ones, already in mourning, with the added burden of defending Stacey’s memory. “It is a big deal,” says Chyna, a transgender woman and one of Stacey’s best friends. “Show her some respect. She lived as a woman, address her as a woman.”

Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation field media strategist Justin Ward says that transgender people suffer so much violence and workplace discrimination that using their preferred names and genders is the least reporters can do.

“Calling her by the name which she went by when she walked the face of this earth and making sure that our pronouns reflect that is a simple sign of respect and common decency.” Ward says GLAAD contacted the Daily News, which subsequently revised its initial story and also updated its style guide.

However, the mourners gathered at Love Park tonight fear that the media will disappoint them once again. They don Stacey’s face on their T-shirts, share tearful anecdotes, light candles in her memory and wonder aloud where the reporters are.

Jay, the father of the House of Blahnik, part of the black underground LGBT scene called the ballroom, appointed Stacey as overall mother. He describes her as beautiful inside and out, winning beauty contests as a sex siren and guiding other young transgender people on the right path. “She was a legend,” says Jay.

The night is slowly getting darker and the air more brisk, and people stand around restlessly. They’re waiting for somebody to make a speech. Waiting for the news cameras to arrive. Waiting for their prayers to be answered after this senseless crime.

For many of those who Stacey left behind—including Chyna, Malik and Yonnie—time is running out. Frightened that the police will let the case turn cold, the three have banded together to demand justice, which they believe slips further away with each passing day.

“We have to make them find out who did this, because if we don’t give a fuck, nobody will,” says Chyna. She and Stacey met as sixth-grade boys in Washington, D.C., and moved to Philadelphia in their 20s to take on a new life and new gender.

Chyna sees Stacey’s death as part of a larger pattern. “This is what they do to people like us,” she says. “Things like this we have to deal with constantly.” Exasperated, she angrily rattles off cases of unsolved murders against gay and transgender people. “A good friend of mine named Alphy Karan was shot and killed at point-blank range on 12th and Locust in ’99,” she says. “They still have not found the killer.”

Chyna also recalls the case of Nizah Morris, whose treatment by police sparked outrage from gay advocates in 2002. After leaving Key West nightclub intoxicated, Morris was dropped off by police at 15th and Walnut streets, where she was later found bleeding from her head. She soon died and her killer has never been found.

“I’m not saying they don’t care, but it’s like we’re at the bottom of the barrel,” Yonnie says.

Chyna says that with Stacey’s murder still unsolved, things have not gotten any easier. “We are giving each other support. But every day it gets harder.”

Malik shares Chyna’s concern about the case. “There’s still unsolved mysteries in the gay community that we know that they haven’t solved,” he says. “I feel like I owe it to her to fight for her when she can’t fight for herself.”

For Malik, that fight often consists of waiting by the phone, hoping the police will return his calls. He says they rarely do anymore. But that doesn’t stop him from dialing their number every day. “I call the detective every time I think of something,” he says. “I called again and told him I found a footprint of blood under the bed.” He points to an unfamiliar black smudge on the living room wall. He says he’s called him about that, too.

Around 6’4”, 39 years old and built like an NBA forward, he is reduced to wiping back tears and grasping at theories as he mourns for Stacey in the row home they moved into together last February. “We were perfect for each other,” he says.

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COMMENTS

Comments 1 - 7 of 7
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1. foxx evisu said... on Nov 3, 2010 at 04:45PM

“hi i didnt no her very well ...but we were included n the same group number one if we all as n gay straight any thing can put are minds on catchin this creep that did this to are angel we can rest n feel free but free wont bring back the lovely stacey ........im not sayin dedicated ur life but wat if that couldve happend to u or one of ur loved ones i lost my aunt a few weeks before stacey n her murdere was found threw help ...so im gonna help stacey cus at the end of the day we are all help by little things so make this into a big thing ....love u chyna .n leek n dawn my heart is for yall ...simply foxx”

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2. Alex said... on Nov 4, 2010 at 11:13AM

“What an awful tragedy. If these news outlets haven't made public apologies for their reporters actions then everyone who cares about this issue should start writing letters on behalf of Stacey's memory. I don't know what actions have been taken by Daily News and NBC 10 since I'm not living in Philly anymore, but make them accountable for reporting the news correctly and respectfully.”

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3. Kat Delancey said... on Nov 4, 2010 at 12:47PM

“I really cannot believe that the media would report this as they did. How dare them??
Stacey is a human being, just as anyone else. It's not fair and nor is it right!!
My heart goes out to all the friends and family of Stacey, one could only imagine what they are feeling right now, especially her lovely husband Malik, he is the barrier of all this cause in all, Malik was the one that found his wife. One could only imagine what this man is going through right now!
Ugh, what a tragedy.
Something has to give cause we cannot allow this to continue to go on any longer. We need to stick together as a community and fight for what is right.
Thanks to the Philadelphia Weekly for this wonderful article and special thanks and much love to all those that knew Stacey and who continue to support the trans community.”

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4. TransGriot said... on Nov 4, 2010 at 10:02PM

“Thanks Gerry for a wonderful article on Stacey.

It's too bad some of your journalistic colleagues in the Philly area failed to remember when they disrespected her that Stacey was a human being who left a lot of people behind who loved her.”

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5. po po said... on Feb 4, 2011 at 02:48AM

“father jay blahnik , you call this man a legend ????a mentor to the young transgender community and 1 that will direct the young down the correct path ???????? to what jay ????? the life of drugs and prostitution and identity theft ???????michael lee was a working male prostitute who advertised his sic services on craig list , backpage , and city paper and walked the stroll downtown !!!!! tell me how wrong that im here jay ???????”

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6. Tavena said... on Aug 18, 2012 at 06:22AM

“This story really touches my heart and its so sad that this had to happen to her, she was very beautiful and so is her story. I wish that people could understand Transgender people like ourselves we fight for our rights every single day and also fight discrimination. I love all my LGBT and it seems like we are all we got, I pray everyday in this sick world we live in. United we stand...Divided we fall...............”

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7. Kaniyah said... on Aug 18, 2012 at 09:57AM

“Stacey was like a mother figure to me even though we didn't have much time to spend together she still taught me alot and I miss her wisdom..... Love you mom”

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